Yesterday several people passing by the May Day rally stopped to ask me what was going on. They had never heard of International Workers' Day and seemed confused by what I was telling them. Their lack of understanding was probabhly seconded by the arrival of a tiny but noisy group from Rose City Antifascists whose intervention in the rally served to drown out conversations with their too-loud boom box. Taking a "vanguardist" approach, they also seemed to be attempting to lead the march. Under better circumstances May Day would be about oppressed people showing our power under the leadership of a multinational, multigenerational and LGBTQI working-class leadership. We would be uniting against imperialism, fascism, sexism, racism, ableism and the destruction of the environment. Our coalition would reflect the base of the working-class, democratic, progressive and revolutionary movements. We would be making demands and building power. The present reality is not that, however---at least not in Oregon.
This is a great article by Elly Leary and taken from FRSO/OSCL. My hope is that it will help clarify some aspects of our history and help get us to more inclusive, broader and representative May Day movement.
When I was asked to write on the history of May Day, I took a big gulp. Having never been taught about May Day in either school or college, I had to do some reading. Oh, I knew the basic one sentence, isn’t that when they hung those guys in Chicago for throwing a bomb? Clearly that wouldn’t be enough of speech, nor is it in fact the real story. So after all my digging, I’m going to start with my conclusion: as the old saying goes, “What goes around comes around.”
May Day, the left-wing version of Labor Day, has its roots in 1880′s in the demand for shorter work days. The parallels between the events of 1886 and today are both startling and unnerving. The country was undergoing profound economic change as the Second Industrial Revolution took hold. In a ten year period between 1880 and 1890 capital investment in manufacturing grew threefold. The death of small-business capitalism was giving way to trusts, mergers, and monopolies. Steel production went from half of England and France’s to outstrip them both and provide a third of the total steel production in the world. The workforce grew dramatically, from 2.7 million to 5.9 million. This was the period when those huge factories sometimes employing 10 thousand or more workers were built.
It was the Gilded Age and robber baron capitalism. While the rich lived in splendor (ever been through their castles in Newport, Rhode Island?), things were terrible for the vast majority of working people (railroad and food workers, factory hands, miners, textile, clothing and shoe workers, clerks). The trusts, the monopolists, and the wealthy justified their position through social Darwinism. This was an ideology particularly suited to the robber barons’ needs. Much like today’s right-wing ideology, it held that “Poverty is only a proof of indolence a advice. Wealth simply shows the industry and virtue of the possessor.”
Read more here.